What Is Nursing Home Abuse?

An elderly hand in held by a helper

As the aging population grows, it is important to consider that the elderly are particularly vulnerable to abuse; many people choose not to examine this possibility because it is frightening and shocking, but it is surprisingly common. Particularly in a nursing home situation, the elderly are often at the mercy of those who are not personally connected to them, and can be at risk due to their lack of ability to physically stand up for themselves.

Nursing home abuse takes many forms, but the damage can be equally extreme in any of the cases—whether it’s emotional abuse, physical abuse, neglect, or financial abuse. Knowing the warning signs of abuse can enable you or a loved one not only to get out of the situation, but also to receive the compensation that may be your due.

Physical abuse is one of the most major problems in nursing homes in the United States today. The definition of this form of abuse is any non-accidental use of physical force against an elderly person. In extreme cases, the abuse can cause death, but more commonly causes physical pain or injury; physical abuse can also include the inappropriate use of drugs, as well as inappropriate use of physical restraints. Some warning signs include recent unexplained (or inadequately explained) injuries, marks on the arms or legs of the elderly person that are consistent with restraints, infections, rapid weight loss or weight gain. Some of the signs are less easily detected; changes in behavior or sudden withdrawn behaviors may be ascribed to dementia or other causes—which is why it is important to check frequently on your loved ones who are in a nursing home to make sure that you notice these events.

Emotional abuse is a more subtle form of harm, and one that does not have as many obvious signs. Emotional or psychological abuse is defined as speaking or treating elderly persons in ways that cause emotional pain and distress. Examples of this type of abuse include intimidation through yelling or threats, isolating the elderly person, humiliation and ridicule, or ignoring the elderly person. While ignoring and isolating the elderly person is a more passive type of abuse, it is still against the law. Warning signs of this type of abuse are similar to physical abuse—withdrawn behaviors, for example, are common. Also common are instances of wandering, unwillingness to speak in front of nursing home staff, and becoming easily upset or agitated.

Financial abuse is often more common in a home-care situation than in that of a nursing home, however it does still happen in elder care institutions. Financial abuse includes outright theft, forcing of an elderly person’s signature, and healthcare fraud—including billing for care that is not provided, as well as double-billing procedures. Over-prescribing and over-medicating are also common forms of financial abuse in nursing homes. It is not difficult to check on this possibility however; politely ask your loved one to look over their financial information, and insist on looking at the elder’s medications to make sure that the amount in the bottle is consistent with the date of prescription. The best safeguard is to call and visit as often as you can, so that your elderly loved one knows that you can be trusted.

If you or a loved one is a victim of nursing home abuse, it is important to report it immediately. When you have reported it, it may also be wise to retain the services of a nursing home abuse attorney. These professionals are experienced personal injury attorneys whose expertise allows them to assist individuals seeking compensation for the nursing home abuse they have suffered.

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